Gàidhlig / English


Posted by Calum on 5th September
I remember years ago that myself and friends were talking about “local” words we have from different areas for “dealan-dè” (butterfly). My friend from Cape Breton said says “dealan-dè” (pronounced “dea(w)an-dè”) but I remember that someone in Strathspey would say “Calman-dè” according to a paper on Strathspey Gaelic by Seumas Grannd [vol. LXI Transactions of the Gaelic Society of Inverness]. This inspired me to find other words in the corpus and we found an abundance of them!

Most of us our aware of “dealan-dè” already and there are versions of it, with dallan-dé, dealaman-dé, dearbadan dé  in many places throughout the Highlands, in The Ross of Mull, Tarbert agus Bowmore.

Intersestingly, “amadan dé” was found in South Boisdale, South Uist, although dealan dè was found in South Boisdale and Lochcarnan as well. “Strainnsear” was found in Kinlochbervie but on the other hand Beusach is recorded. I have a suspicion that this is connected with the word “beus” since that the creature is connected to a tale that it is enchanted and holy. In Ortha nan Gàidheal [Carmina Gadelica] Carmichael is recorded as to say they are angels from heaven to gather the souls of the dead and take them to heaven. Therefore, children when they see a yellow butterfly say the following:

“Dhealain-Dé! Dhealain-Dé!
Co an deò thug thu fhé,
Dhealain-Dé! Dhealain-Dé!
Thug thu ’n dé do fhlathas?”
(Oh Butterfly, oh Butterfly!
What soul have you taken,
Oh Butterfly, oh Butterfly!
That you have taken to Heaven?)

It makes sense now why folk in Strathspey would say "Calman" (Dove) with such a sacred creature. According to folklore there were no butterflies on earth until Christ risen from the cave and they were dispersed throughout the world after him. Therefore you wont find a butterfly “am measg dhaoine dona, measg droch chuideachd, measg droch chainnt, measg droch obair, measg nì gràineil, nì tàireil, nì duairce,.” (among wicked men, among evil company, evil speech, evil deeds, things hateful, things shameful, things vicious.”) [Carmina Gadelica, earrann IV, d.4]

Both feileacan and fuatharlan are recorded, even though fuatharlan is used for “leòmann” no “muchais” (moth) as well. South Uist is here with Learbad that was found in South Boisdale again.

The majority of the following words from a Northern-direction; tarmachan (Bettyhill), tarbhan-dé (Gairloch), tormachan (Morvich), tormachan-dé (Achiltbuie), teilean-dé agus teilean-dé (Lewis), tormachan-dé (Harris) agus teilean-dé (North uist).

Tormachán, tormachan-dé, tormán-dé, dealán-dé and sailmeán-dé were all recorded in “Faclan agus Abairtean à Ros an Iar” by Roy Wentworth and he’s come to the same conclusion as above. Wentworth makes a note to establish the difference between sailmeán-dé and the others, saying that sailmeán is said for butterflies and moths that you would find during the night instead of regular butterflies or moths during the day. The others are used for butterflies and moths interchangeably.

In the Dictionary “Etymological Dictionary of the Gaelic Language” by Alexander MacBain dealan-dè comes from “Gods fire” and “the phenomenon observed by whirling a stick lighted at the end”. This is true according to Seumas Grannd’s notes; when a person was sick with a stye another person would do a dealan-dè close to the eye with a lighted kindler or stick saying:

“Cha till dealan-dé, cha till dealan-dé, cha till dealan-dé, tha fèidh air an loch” (“A butterfly wont return, a butterfly wont return, a butterfly wont return, the deer are on the loch”) [earrann LXI, tàr-ghnìomhan Comann na Gàidhlig Inbhir Nis]

This is very similar to a similar verse recoded in “Aithris is Oideas”. This is the whole verse:
“Dealan dealan-dé!
Tha na féidh air an loch,
Tha MicShimidh ás an déidh,
Cha tig na féidh dhachaigh nochd.”
(“Butterfly, butterfly,
The deer are on the loch,
Lord Lovat’s after them,
The deer wont come home.”)

A near identical verse is recorded in "Verse, Story and Fragments from Various Districts, part II" by Hugh Barron, Transactions of the Gaelic Society of Inverness; it says
"Dilean, Dealan Déigh, tha na féidh air an loch,
Tha MacShimidh as an déigh
's cha tig féidh dhachaidh nochd."

Tarmachan-dé is written in the same book too, although tàrmachan means “Ptarmigan” instead of dealan-dè in MacBain’s dictionary.

Do you have any words for butterfly? What is your opinion about the words we have here? Let us know on facebooktwitter and our own website!
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